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A Scapegoat for the Fashion Industry?

By Vanessa Friedman & Elizabeth Paton

Photographer Terry Richardson on the red carpet at the Vanity Fair Oscar party at the Sunset Towers in West Hollywood, California in 2012.
 
Susan J. Rose/ PI
Photographer Terry Richardson on the red carpet at the Vanity Fair Oscar party at the Sunset Towers in West Hollywood, California in 2012.

This past week, in an apparently defensive move after a social media outcry, the biggest fashion magazines cut ties with photographer Terry Richardson over his history of alleged sexual harassment.

On Monday, The Telegraph broke the news that James Woolhouse, Condé Nast International executive vice president, had sent a memo to select staff saying that the company would no longer be working with the “controversial” fashion photographer.

“Any shoots that have been commissioned or any shoots that have been completed but not yet published should be killed and substituted with other material,” the memo said.

The next day, Condé Nast International’s U.S. sister organization released a statement saying: “Condé Nast has nothing planned with Terry Richardson going forward. Sexual harassment of any kind is unacceptable and should not be tolerated.”

Porter, the Net-a-Porter magazine, also said it was no longer working with Richardson. So did Hearst magazines, which owns Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, Esquire and Marie Claire. Richardson had already been commissioned to shoot the January cover of Elle and had recently done so. It is now being redone by another photographer.

Bulgari, Diesel and Valentino, all brands that recently worked with Richardson on their ad campaigns, issued statements stating that they had no plans to work with him in the future.

It all sounds very responsible. But some industry insiders have begun to question whether fashion’s efforts to distance itself from Richardson is an attempt to Band-Aid over a deeper crisis, to make a public example of an offender already accused in order to appear to be taking action, when a much broader and more systemic approach needs to be adopted.

Emily BerlTerry Richardson takes a photo of L'Wren Scott and Mick Jagger in New York, 2012. As fashion magazines and brands distance themselves from  Richardson over his history of alleged sexual harassment, insiders say the problem is a lot bigger than one man.
Terry Richardson takes a photo of L'Wren Scott and Mick Jagger in New York, 2012. As fashion magazines and brands distance themselves from Richardson over his history of alleged sexual harassment, insiders say the problem is a lot bigger than one man.

Edie Campbell, a model who has been featured in campaigns for Chanel and Dior, among others, said: “The reality is that the floodgates are already open regarding Terry Richardson. He’s been blacklisted once before, and it’s not that much of an emotional, psychological or commercial leap to blacklist him again. The difficulty is addressing the other people — the ones who are celebrated by the fashion industry, and who are still at the very heart of it. This will not be solved simply by banning the use of one photographer.”

Richardson was widely pilloried in 2014 when allegations of behaviour that included cavorting naked on shoots and forcing his penis on models surfaced in the news media.

Richardson has not denied his behaviour but has always maintained that any sexual activity was consensual, and no criminal charges were ever filed. No major new allegations have appeared since 2014, and he had reportedly gone through therapy. He recently had twins and got married.

Acielle TanbetovaKatie Grand, a stylist and the editor of Love magazine, in Milan, 2017. “I thought it was important to put into perspective that every model has a story of a photographer, client, art director, stylist behaving inappropriately,” she said.
Katie Grand, a stylist and the editor of Love magazine, in Milan, 2017. “I thought it was important to put into perspective that every model has a story of a photographer, client, art director, stylist behaving inappropriately,” she said.

Numerous magazines cut ties with Richardson around 2014, though he had gradually returned to the industry, working with celebrities including Miley Cyrus and Beyoncé as well as magazines and brands.

When Roberta Myers was editor of Elle (she recently stepped down), she had forbidden the magazine to work with Richardson, but after Nina Garcia was appointed as Elle’s new editor, he was commissioned to photograph actress Zoë Kravitz for the January 2018 cover.

After The New York Times published its account detailing allegations of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment and abuse, Joanna Coles, chief content officer of Hearst, and Garcia decided to cancel the Elle cover photographed by Richardson and to reshoot it, a Hearst spokeswoman confirmed.

American Vogue stopped working with Richardson in 2010, when the first public statements about his behaviour appeared, but in the last two years he had done shoots for Vogue China, Vogue France, Korean W, German GQ and Italian GQ, among others. Recently he shot a story for the November issue of W, a Condé Nast magazine, for the first time since 2011. ( Richardson’s work has also appeared in T: The New York Times Style Magazine, but not since 2012.)

A Condé Nast spokeswoman said that Stefano Tonchi, editor of W, was not available for comment. But according to a person familiar with the shoot who asked not to be named because they were not authorised to speak to the media, the magazine had decided it was time to give Richardson another chance. Editors were on set during the shoot and also handled the model casting.

The question now becomes: What else does fashion know?

Trish Goff, a former top model who has spoken about her experience with Weinstein, said that during her modelling years, “there were other girls and agents who would warn you about a photographer. They’d say, ‘Be mindful of him,’ or “Don’t let him convince you to take off your clothes.'”

Athena Currey, who modelled from 1993-2008, said that when she was a 19-year-old working in Paris, her agency sent her on a shoot with a photographer who called her later that night at her hostel to describe how much he wanted to “make love to me.” The next day, she told her agent, a woman, that the conversation made her very uncomfortable and that she did not want to work with him again.

“Everyone said, ‘Of course, of course,'” Currey said now. “Then a week later, my agent called me and said: ‘I have a really important job, and I really think you should do it. Only it’s with that photographer.’ And then she put a huge amount of pressure on me to get over it and do the job. And I know they sent other girls to him afterward.” The agency appears to have closed.

None of the models who discussed their experiences for this article said their agents ever talked to them about how to handle unwanted advances from photographers, even if they knew their clients were likely to encounter them.

Carolyn Kramer, a former co-director of Marilyn Models and a former casting director at Self magazine who currently owns an art gallery in Provincetown, Massachusetts, said: “It all came back to the money. If an agency sees potential in a 15-year-old girl, then it doesn’t matter to them what may be happening behind the scenes if the girl can get a campaign. I give myself a C- for what I was able to accomplish to protect my girls. We all sold our souls to the devil so the model could become famous.”

Dina LitovskyAmber Valletta, a model, actress and activist, in New York, 2014. “You start taking one person down, and the skies are going to fall,” Valleta said.
Amber Valletta, a model, actress and activist, in New York, 2014. “You start taking one person down, and the skies are going to fall,” Valleta said.

Amber Valletta, a model, actress and activist, said she was asked to take her top off during her first modelling summer in Italy when she was 15 and, on another occasion, was asked by a model booker at a magazine to disrobe. When Valletta was 18 or 19, she said, a photographer came to her hotel room, asked to give her a massage and began rubbing her breasts.

She said she thought the most important next step was putting structures in place throughout the industry to protect all involved, from garment workers to models.

“My experiences were so minor compared to stories I have heard,” she said. “You start taking one person down, and the skies are going to fall.”

Condé Nast is aware of the risk. On Thursday, in an email to internal management as well as outside contractors, Bob Sauerberg, chief executive, and Jonathan Newhouse, the chairman, wrote:

“All employees, freelancers and independent contractors must understand the company’s expectations of appropriate behaviour and treatment of others. Condé Nast also expects the agencies that represent hired talent to develop, circulate and reinforce with their clients what is and is not acceptable behaviour in interacting with others, with particular emphasis on protecting people who are in vulnerable positions in their professional relationships.”

Kramer said, “Terry Richardson is just the tip of the iceberg. If magazines distanced themselves from everybody that has been implicated in this kind of behaviour, there would be a lot fewer contributing photographers” in their pages.